Fast Fashion: The True Cost Of Your Wardrobe!

By Radha Mishra

April 8, 2024 at 12:00 AM

Illustration by Rakib Zaman Khan

Illustration by Rakib Zaman Khan

Step inside a mall or browse a shopping website - you will be greeted with an array of trendy clothes. All the fashionable items on display immediately catch your attention. Dresses you have seen on social media or influencers are within an arm's reach. Well-maintained on racks or displayed on mannequins. Though you have no plans to shop, you find it hard to resist.

Walking through the aisles, you spot the piece you've been searching for. And there's also the dress your favorite actor wore for her birthday – you want it for yours too. You try to avert your eyes, but it keeps pulling you. You give in and buy them. Not just one or two, but as many as your wallet can afford.

You bring those pieces home, envisioning the event to wear them to. As you slip them on, a sense of excitement fills you. Gazing into the mirror, you can't help but admire how amazing you look. 'Wow,' you think, 'I look even better than the influencer I saw wearing it.' The joy of owning such trendy attire fills you with pleasure.

But after a few wears, you notice its charm fading. You might repurpose it once or twice. But before long, it's just occupying space in your closet. You find yourself back at the store or scrolling through e-commerce websites. And so the cycle repeats - welcome to the world of fast fashion.

Clothes that seem perfect at the store or online lose appeal after a few washes. It doesn't happen only with you. Such garments are made only to be worn a few times and tossed aside. The World Bank suggests that global clothes sales could increase by up to 65 percent by 2030.

The definition of fast fashion is when brands quickly make cheap clothes to stay relevant to the latest trends. The Cambridge Dictionary defines fast fashion as: "clothes made and sold cheaply so people can buy new clothes often. Instead of having two seasons, fast fashion gives us new variations on T-shirts and jeans every week."


Handmade to High Street: The Evolution of Fashion

We need to go back to history to find the roots of fast fashion. Before the 1800s, fashion was only for the privileged. It required efforts such as sourcing resources like wool or leather. Then, people weaved and made the clothes out of it.

With technologies like sewing machines, clothes became quicker to produce. Dressmaking shops came into existence. Shopping still was an exquisite experience, an occasional affair.

The shift occurred during the 1960s and '70s when young people started setting trends. Clothing evolved from mere garments to powerful tools of self-expression. Yet, there was a stark disparity between high-end and high-street fashion.

Then came the 1990s, when the term fast fashion was first used. It was the time when Zara landed in New York—the New York Times coined the phrase to define Zara's aggressive goal. From designing a piece to selling it in stores, it all took Zara barely two weeks.

Before long, affordable yet fashionable clothing became all the rage. The rise of online shopping added fuel to the fire. Fast fashion giants such as H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 took over the high streets. They captivated shoppers with their compelling offerings. Their popularity skyrocketed, and it continues to do so.

These brands excelled in mimicking designs seen exclusively on fashion runway. Soon, they bridged the gap between high-end couture and everyday fashion. With this and online shopping bringing more ease - the era of fast fashion begins.

Beyond Fashion: Unveiling the Hidden Cost

Fast fashion turned out to be a practical alternative for the masses. And why not? It made runway fashion accessible to all at a price that fits the budget. But that is just one side of the story. While fast fashion makes shopping affordable, it comes at a cost. The cost of the environment!

It may seem ordinary, but the environmental impact of fast fashion is enormous. The consequences of fast fashion extend far beyond what most of us can imagine.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change states that the greenhouse gas emissions from textile production amount to 1.2 billion tonnes yearly. It surpasses the emissions from all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

And by some estimates, the sector’s emissions may rise by over 60 percent by 2030. Yet, the issue isn't discussed or often overlooked.

Several reports show that the impact of fast fashion on the environment is more significant than commonly perceived. And if not addressed promptly, the dream of a more sustainable future could slip away. According to a Business Insider analysis, fashion production alone contributes to 10% of total global carbon emissions.

Water usage in clothing production is a critical concern that requires urgent attention. As per the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the garment industry ranks as the second largest consumer of water, following agriculture. It takes about 700 gallons to make one cotton shirt and 2,000 gallons to make a pair of jeans. It pollutes rivers and streams in the process. After being used on textiles, the leftover dye often ends up in waterways, making it a significant water polluter.

Waste generation in fashion continues to pose significant challenges. Washing clothes releases microfibers into the ocean. These microfibers are equal to discarding 50 billion plastic bottles a year. Despite this, a substantial chunk of clothing arrives in landfills every year.

The primary sources of pollution, as per Quantis International 2018 report, are 1. dyeing and finishing (36%), 2. yarn preparation (28%), and 3. fiber production (15%). The report further suggests that cotton fibers use the most water. It leaves a negative impact on the ecosystem. Dyeing, finishing, yarn prep, and fiber production use many resources as they rely on energy from fossil fuels.

Competition in the fashion market is tough. Brands need to create cheaper alternatives without making a hole in their pockets. Hence, they use synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, and acrylic. These fibers take hundreds of years to break down in the ocean. Around 35 percent of microplastics come from the laundering of synthetic textiles.

With social media driving trends, the demand for everyday fashion is soaring. As a result, the industry churns out a staggering 80 billion new pieces yearly, leading to significant textile waste. On average, an American generates 82 pounds of textile waste per annum.

Producing plastic fibers and textiles requires a lot of energy. Cotton, another commonly used fabric, is harmful as pesticides in its cultivation pose a direct risk to farmers' health.

Make a Difference: Your Wardrobe, Your Responsibility

We are aware of the issue, but how do we address it? Well, you hold the power to make a difference. How? Shifting mindsets is the essential first step.

●    Make eco-conscious fashion choices. Do not follow trends; instead, opt for clothes that fit well, offer comfort, and have timeless appeal. Choose an evergreen item that you can wear anywhere. Ethical fashion practices are the key to a greener tomorrow.

●    Try not to be tempted and fall prey to impulsive buying. Try to create a capsule wardrobe and experiment with style. Fall in love with the clothes you already own, or choose sustainable fashion solutions. Follow the 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ mantra to promote mindful consumption.

●    Do rent outfits for special events. It can restrain you from buying something new on every occasion.

●   Let's make shopping an occasional event. Be mindful when buying clothes. Choosing quality garments made of lower-impact materials is essential. There are pros and cons to all fiber types. Read about them. Educate yourself for a greener future and for the planet we live in.

●    Try and find second-hand clothes if possible. Also, there are more ethical clothing brands and fabrics. Find them and shop from them. Also, buy from brands that practice sustainable textile production. Opt for green fashion trends.

●    The outfits come with care instructions. Follow them to help the fabric last longer. Learning about the issues is critical in any consumer’s ethical shopping journey.

●    The sustainable fabric options are organic cotton, linen, hemp, and lyocell. Various organizations and studies have regarded these fabrics as sustainable alternatives.

Organic cotton is known for its reduced environmental impact. Compared to conventional cotton, it requires less water and no synthetic pesticides. It also reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Linen, another sustainable fabric, has a natural production process. It requires minimal water and pesticides. Another fabric, hemp, is praised for its eco-friendly cultivation methods. Its cultivation also requires less water and no pesticides or herbicides.

Lyocell, a type of rayon, is created from sustainably sourced wood pulp. The process uses a closed-loop production that minimizes waste and chemical usage. These fabrics are more eco-friendly than conventional materials in the fashion industry.

This article is part of the Fast Fashion Series by ECOMILLI. If you found it helpful, please show some love by sharing it and spreading the word. Stay tuned for the next article in the series coming next month.


Ecomilli, we're on a mission to transform the world into a greener and more socially just place. We believe that everyone has the power to make a difference, and we're here to help you do just that.

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